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The Living France guide to getting married in France

PUBLISHED: 10:00 23 July 2014

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With attractive locations, delicious food, and fantastic wine, France is undeniably a romantic place to tie the knot. Kate McNally talks through the practicalities

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With so many beautiful churches, a reputation for gourmet food and no shortage of affordable excellent wine (including the bubbly variety), France has a lot going for it when it comes to putting on the wedding ritz. That said, many French weddings are quite simple affairs, with couples and parents less inclined to take out large loans for the big day, and guests often content to team jeans with their shirt and tie.

As is the case in many countries, there are all types of weddings to suit all tastes and budgets and, despite mass protests from some sections of the French population, same-sex marriage is now also part of the spectrum following legislation passed last summer. In fact, the gay community in France has been able to formally recognise their relationships for many years now through civil partnerships, known as a pacte civil de solidarité or ‘PACS’ in France. This legal union came into operation in 1999 and currently there are almost as many couples (same sex and opposite sex) opting for a PACS as for marriage.

Of course, there are procedures involved and a few more hoops to jump through for non-nationals, but then again it’s all part and parcel of tying the knot anywhere – unless you do it Las Vegas style that is!

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RULES AND PAPERWORK

Marriage

A notable difference when getting married in France as opposed to on home turf is that the official wedding service must be carried out by the mayor (or his/her representative) at the local mairie in the commune where at least one of the prospective partners resides. This legal process must precede any religious ceremony. French couples often get married at the mairie with their witnesses and a small select family group in attendance, before proceeding to the local church where a larger gathering of guests await.

In France, both people entering the marriage must be 18 years old or over. While 16-year-olds in the UK can marry with their parents’ consent, in France this is only allowed in special cases and is very rare.

In order to be eligible to marry at the mairie, at least one half of the couple must have resided for at least 30 days in the commune attached to the mairie, or the parents of one of the couple must reside there permanently. In either case, proof of residency (usually utility bills) will be required when preparing the marriage dossier.

Marriage dossier

The mairie will require the following documents as part of the dossier de mariage – and don’t forget that any documents written in English (apart from a passport) must be translated into French by a registered translator:

• An identity card or passport for both parties.

• A recent copy of the future spouses’ birth certificates, obtained within three months prior to the wedding date, six months is allowed in the case of non-nationals.

• If the couple has entered into a prenuptial agreement (contrat de mariage), a copy of the solicitor (notaire)’s documents must be included.

• If either party is divorced, a copy of the divorce documents is necessary.

• A declaration statement giving the name, address and occupation of both future spouses and the witnesses – at least one witness, maximum two, is required for each person getting married.

• A certificat de coutume (a certificate of law) is required for any foreigner marrying in France for the publishing of the bans. It basically states that the person is free to marry and that the marriage will be recognised in their home country. (The bans are published at the mairie a minimum of 10 full days before the planned wedding date.)

• One, sometimes two, documents showing proof of residency.

PACS

The pacte civil de solidarité was originally created to enable two adults living together to formalise and organise communal life – basically offering some of the financial advantages and protection enjoyed by married couples.

A couple entering a PACS ties the knot at the tribunal d’instance (effectively the local magistrate’s court) attached to where they live, or with a notaire. You can enter into a PACS as long as you are both over the age of 18, deemed mentally capable, and are not married or already in a PACS with someone else. A former union in either case, must be legally terminated beforehand.

You can opt for a simple declaration document stating you both wish to sign up to the pacte, or you can draw up a more comprehensive document clearly setting out the conditions for each partner with regard to joint ownership, separate estates and how belongings will be divided up should either of you wish to terminate the PACS. Every declaration must include reference to the law governing a PACS.

The majority of documents required are the same as those listed above for entering into marriage, including the certificate of law for non-nationals born in a different country. Again, all documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by a translation carried out by a registered translator.

Both parties must be present in person to register the contract, which is then given to them. The tribunal d’instance does not keep a copy. However, a notaire may keep the original and give the couple a copy. The PACS comes into effect the day it is registered, and PACS status is indicated on each individual’s birth certificate. Similarly, if the agreement is terminated, you are legally required to indicate this on your birth certificate.

Advantages of a PACS for unmarried couples

Inheritance tax/donations

Once ‘pacsé’ (in a PACS), a couple is exonerated from inheritance tax if stated in a will, and each person can donate progressively from 5% up to 45% of their estate to their partner while alive with up to €80,000 tax-free (the same as a married couple). Those living together without a marriage or PACS contract are only allowed up to €1,500 tax-free on any donation, and are liable to 60% inheritance tax if their partner dies, as the inheritance is considered a gift to a third party.

Income tax

Couples in a PACS, again, like married couples, can submit a joint household income tax declaration, which in most cases results in paying less annual income tax per couple than if submitting separate individual declarations.

A PACS can be terminated by a joint or single party declaration to the tribunal d’instance or notaire where the original contract was registered. In the case of a single person declaration, the other party is informed by bailiff and the PACS is legally terminated after a period of three months, either dividing jointly owned belongings equally or according to conditions set out in the contract.

Staying in the home

If the communal home is owned by a partner who dies, the surviving partner will have preferential right to stay in the home if set out in a will, and a legal right to remain in the home for one year unless stated otherwise in a will.

Read the Living France guide to the retired life in France here

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